Bunker Labs is a free program built by veteran entrepreneurs for veteran entrepreneurs.
Through education, funding and mentorship, the organization aims to equip veterans to become business owners and to establish a forum for high-performing veterans to meet and collaborate.
With headquarters in Chicago and chapters in seven other cities, Bunker Labs has helped veterans start 120 different businesses across the U.S. as of winter 2016. Most of the veterans served and supported are age 40 or younger.
The organization became aware of Skender Foundation through the firm working on the redesign of its new meeting and office space at Chicago’s Merchandise Mart. Through their developing relationship, Bunker Labs CEO Todd Connor and Skender Foundation board member Brian Skender discovered both organizations shared the same goals and character in seeking positive community change. They also felt a common passion for making an impact on veterans’ opportunities to succeed in business.
In that spirit, Skender Foundation agreed to complete the build-out of Bunker Labs’ meeting and office space pro bono through Skender Construction.
“Our relationship with Skender Foundation was critical, and it proves what can be achieved when like minds meet,” Connor said. “They were our first partner in construction during the redesign. Without their support, we wouldn’t have known where to turn for what we really needed. Because of their care and their excellent work, we have an accommodating, inspiring location for U.S. veterans to pursue their dream of owning and running a business.”
The need for such a resource is evident in statistics gathered since World War Two. Connor points out that after the last world war, 49% of veterans started or owned a business. Today, 25% might start a business, and only 6% are actually running one.
Bunker Labs also fulfills the need for current veterans to have a place to meet, interact, and share ideas and experiences much like past generations have done at their local VFW. The organization offers community workshops for veterans on Wednesday evenings and Thursday mornings as well.
“The more I got to know Todd, the more I realized how much Bunker Labs really cares about U.S. veterans,” Skender said. “That commitment inspired us to make the build-out one they would take pride in. By working together, we knew we would help empower people to meet their potential.”
Connor emphasizes the connection among Bunker Labs, Skender Foundation and aspiring veterans as a natural bond of the same spirit.
“Skender Construction itself was a start-up that began small and grew through hard work, perseverance and strong core values,” he said. “They understand what it’s like to think and act as an entrepreneur. It’s in their DNA.”
He also recognizes what distinguishes Skender Foundation in its dedication to making a greater Chicago.
“They know how to identify organizations that offer genuine substance,” he said. “They’re also not afraid to be early adopters of initiatives they believe they can impact, especially those within non-traditional niches.
“Equally important, they’re very hands-on and multidimensional when they commit to something. Their devotion goes well beyond donating funds to include all of the resources and networks they can offer to support an effort and grow a relationship.”